The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will bring to Puerto Rico at least three barge generators and seven portable power generation units to stabilize the island's electrical system, which was affected by Hurricane Fiona on September 18.
FEMA's federal coordinator, Nancy Casper, indicated that after the inspection throughout the country, they were able to corroborate the damage suffered by the system and the need for the units while the necessary repairs were being made.
It is expected that these units - which will take one to six months to arrive - will inject between 600 to 700 additional megawatts into the energy production system.
The units will remain on the island for 12 to 18 months, which will also provide space for scheduled maintenance in the coming months.
"The work will allow the people of Puerto Rico to keep their lights on, help the economy and maintain a more resilient situation during the upcoming hurricane season. We are focused on this collaboration between FEMA, our federal partners and the government of Puerto Rico to achieve our ultimate goal of a stable electrical system," Casper said yesterday during a press conference at La Fortaleza.
The federal official made the caveat that if they need additional resources they could consider bringing in more generating units.
Although she admitted that it is too early to know what the cost of this initiative will be, Governor Pedro Pierluisi said that FEMA will pay 90% of the costs and the Puerto Rico government will pay the remaining 10%.
The governor anticipated that they will request authorization from the Fiscal Control Board to allow them to use the emergency reserve to defray the costs once it is determined how much they will be.
FEMA's decision comes after the Puerto Rico Power System Stabilization Task Force was created at the governor's request, according to reports. This team is made up of the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
"This assistance would be in addition to the funds already allocated to the electric system and its priority is to provide stability in the shortest possible time in order to repair the system before the next hurricane season. Also, the aid considers and respects the Integrated Resources Plan (of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority) and the renewable energy goals of our public energy policy," the governor said.
"The increase in temporary generation will also allow us to carry out work and improvements in the generating units that we are using today and that we cannot shut down to make repairs, since we do not have enough generating capacity," added Pierluisi, accompanied by the executive director of the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience (COR3), Manuel Laboy, and the assistant secretary of the Governor's Office for Energy Affairs, Francisco Berríos Portela.
Speeding up work
The governor explained that federal resources will be used to expedite the work of deploying equipment, providing engineering services, expediting permits and procurement processes. The work that FEMA and its personnel will carry out will be coordinated with the island's energy system component, so that the work can be done systematically, Pierluisi added.
For her part, the FEMA coordinator stated that the special team for the stabilization of the electrical system "has developed strategies that will allow Puerto Rico to continue repairing and rebuilding the electrical system after the impact of Hurricane Fiona".
Casper added that even with the emergency measures they are taking, there is a possibility that the power may go out, but she assured that the possibility is reduced.
Twenty-four hours after the most recent blackout, which left some 175,000 customers without power on Monday afternoon, the chief executive denied that the system had collapsed.
"The network we have is no good, it is failing. If it is not a transmission line that is damaged, it is a substation; in other words, we know that the network is in a critical state, but it is not collapsing. If there had been a general blackout - like the one caused by hurricane (Fiona) - if there is something like that, we can talk about collapse, but fortunately 90% of the service was restored in three weeks," he argued.
Although the Energy Bureau had ordered LUMA Energy to formulate a power generation stabilization plan - the final version of which was due yesterday and which contained similar information on the island's needs until 2024 - it was reported that they will continue with the procedures on the agenda, despite the announcement by FEMA and the government.
"The Energy Bureau's process is still ongoing. Those regulated must report any plan that affects the grid," the regulator said in written statements sent to EL VOCERO.
In October alone there were six blackouts due to lack of power generation, which added to the repairs for the damage caused by Fiona and the future projection that some generating units will have to go out of service for scheduled maintenance, keep the energy system at risk of not having enough production for the months of higher consumption, according to what LUMA Energy executives have argued before the Energy Bureau.
They also indicated that it is necessary to add up to 500 megawatts through emergency generators to have them in reserve in case some other eventuality occurs and demand cannot be met.
LUMA's projections indicate that prior to Hurricane Fiona - with the system as it was - the island would have had an average of 8.8 days without electricity next year. This would have increased to 28.1 days without power if any base generation unit went out of service.
However, because Fiona caused damage and some units have had to be repaired, if one base unit were to go out of service, it is estimated that the Island would have up to 50 days without power per year. If two base units were to go out of service, the projection increases to 98.2 days without service per year.
Monday's blackout, caused by a fault in line 50900 of 230,000 volts, affected part of AES's self-protection system, and took its two units out of service.
At press time, LUMA had not identified what caused the outage.